Saturday, July 31, 2010

If Anyone Is Listening...

As anyone who knows Missouri knows, there is a great disparity of size among the 35 Districts into which the Synod is divided.  The smallest number between 50-70 congregations and the largest number between 300-400 congregations.  The difference here is not just in number of congregations but also how those congregations related to each other and to the District President and staff.

The next leg of the restructuring of Synod will, if followed, take up District size and structure.  While I do not know if this will take place or not, I am going to weigh in on the matter on behalf of a smaller sized District.  I believe that somewhere between 60-80 is an adequate size to provide resources to serve and yet maintain an intimate relationship with the clergy and congregations of the District.  It might even make it possible for these Districts to have a part-time District President (Atlantic does with about 100 congregations, so does Oklahoma with about 80, and the SELC/Slovak does does with about 55).  Whether or not to be full or part-time is a matter for the District to determine but it would be possible with smaller Districts.

Although we are accustomed to having District Staff to handle a host of things for us, it was not always so.  Districts grew as Synod grew and now some want Districts to grow as Synod downsizes.  Either way, on the District level we spend a great deal and invest much in people, programs, and structural costs associated with these people and programs. I am not suggesting that those who work in that level are bad folks or not doing a good job.  I am merely asking whether this is the way we want it to be and the way it should be.

The goal, in my mind, is to have a District sized so that the District President can provide informed episcopal oversight of doctrine and practice and know the clergy and congregations under his care as deeply and intimately as possible.  That cannot happen when you have 200 congregations and it certainly cannot happen when you have 400 congregations.  Part of the breakdown of our Synod is the weakened ties between District Presidents and the places and people they serve (as overseers of doctrine and practice).

It would also relieve the District structure and staff from the many levels of administrative work and the many layers of meetings that go on incessantly in Synod.  Ask any District President to visit and you will find a calendar loaded down with so many, many meetings and you will hear the frustration of trying to find time to schedule what needs to be done locally.  I do not fault the people but I think the structure does not well serve the goals and ends I mentioned above.

Now there are always those who speak of economy of scale and the financial benefits of larger groupings of congregations.  According to what is passed through Districts to Synod and how much money is absorbed on the District level, I think it can safely be said that large Districts consume large budgets.  There is not much of a choice there.  One goes with the other.  I guess our question is this -- do we want Districts the size of small denominations which replicate the programs and functions of these small denominations or do we want to focus on the relationship and oversight of doctrine and practice which is possible only with smaller groupings of congregations?  I think you know where I stand.

In the District where I serve, it is literally two days travel time from East to West and one day from North to South.  Even though the District Office is somewhat centrally located, I know that those on the edges of the District feel distant from nearly everything.  Sometimes those not so close to the edges feel the same way.  It is not the fault of the man or the congregations and their Pastors but the effect of a structure stretched so far.  In contrast to this distance, I believe a close knit relationship fostered by a structure of smaller congregations grouped together might help us answer some of the larger issues of division and disagreement in Synod...

Well, you have had my two cents worth, so what do you think?


Jeremy Clifton said...

As a fellow Mid-Souther (Cross of Christ, Chattanooga) I am in agreement with you. I think if we could configure our districts so that they could be traversed in a 5-6 hour drive at most and modify their responsibilities such that the DP could effectively continue to serve a congregation, we'd really improve things.

Gene White said...

As a layman who has lived in five different districts, one of them twice, during my work years and retirement, I do have an opinion. They are too big.

All of ours have had a large numbers of congregations or large geography, or both. Circuits need to be revisited too. I know of one case where the circuit counselor has to drive all day to reach his furthest congregation. But more importantly, they need to be revitalized with meaningful Circuit Convocations. By this I mean training programs on Church Polity, Reformation History, The Call Process, etc. These skills are poor to non-existent in many of our congregations.

Getting back to large districts I think they need to be recognized for what they are, bureaucracies. Any bureaucracy will do what all of them do, be they church or government. They will travel too much, they will have too many meetings, and invent programs and activities to justify their existence. It is nothing personal, it is just what they do, because of what they are, with the intensity varying based on personal factors and leanings.